Adobe battles fake photos with editing tags

Adobe has announced it will start tagging Photoshopped images as having been edited, to help push back against misinformation.

The software maker's digital image editing tools will feature the technology in a preview version later this year, the company told WIRED, under a previously detailed Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI).

The system will add a tag to metadata showing the provenance of an image, such as which camera took it or whether it was edited. That data will be cryptographically signed so it can't be altered or removed, letting someone viewing the image track its history through metadata.

“We imagine a future where if something in the news arrives without CAI data attached to it, you might look at it with extra skepticism and not want to trust that piece of media,” project leader Andy Parsons told the magazine.

The aim is to make it easier for content creators to label their work as authentic and claim it as their own, giving the rest of us an extra signal that an image can be trusted. "Currently, creators who wish to include metadata about their work (for example authorship) cannot do so in a secure, tamper-evident and standard way across platforms," an Adobe white paper on the system notes. "Without this attribution information, publishers and consumers lack critical context for determining the authenticity of media."

Adobe has already been working with Twitter on the project, which could see images posted to social media tracked via the tags, helping to make it easier to spot falsified images and to highlight pictures that aren't what they claim to be, something Twitter has already started doing with posts about elections and public health.

The move comes amid wider concerns about misinformation spread via social media during the pandemic and ahead of the US election, with tech firms laying out their plans for how they intend to battle falsehoods and promote correct data in the months running up to the vote.

But photos and video add an extra dimension in the battle against misinformation and propaganda, especially with the rise of deep-fake technologies that make it easier to convincingly falsify such content.

Whether the Adobe system can help push back against such concerns remains to be seen, but the CAI technology may have to be used more widely than specialist, expensive software like Photoshop to make much of a dent, as that's not how most people edit an image before posting it online.